The controversy over President Obama’s health care reform effort is becoming dangerously angry. Groups consisting almost entirely of white conservatives are agitated about the possibility of legislation that creates new rules for health insurers and establishes some sort of public government-run coverage for those who want or need it. I’ve seen the footage of screaming and shoving at the town hall debates. I’ve seen the footage of the raging white guy snatching the poster of Rosa Parks from the black woman and tearing it to shreds while the white audience applauds his shocking act. I’ve seen the protest signs showing Obama transformed into Hitler. I’ve seen the people holding up swastikas. There’s a lot of rage and alarming racism on display by these people. Furthermore, I don’t see many poor, unemployed or uninsured people screaming and calling the president ‘Hitler.’ One must also stop to consider that many of these angry health care protesters are conservative ‘Christians’ who talk a good game in church about helping the poor and about mercy and all that kind of thing. But when the president actually sits down to try to offer money and government support for health care for people who may desperately need it, these conservative ‘Christians’ go into a frothing rage and call the president ‘Hitler.’
Very strange. Or is it?
Where do these people get all this Hitler fascist stuff? You can easily ascertain that they are not intelligent people simply by watching and listening to them. Most of them could not tell you where Hitler was born but they seem to throw his name around a lot. They certainly weren’t out there calling George W. Bush ‘Hitler.’ They didn’t hold up swastikas for him. If any U.S. president has even come close to behaving like Hitler, it must be George W. Bush. He actually invaded a country on a false pretext. He imprisoned people without any charges and ordered them to be tortured without mercy for indefinite periods. Hitler did those things and plenty more. Of all U.S. presidents in the history of this nation, George W. Bush most closely matches Hitler in his actions and his assaults upon free speech and the rule of law. So why is Obama being called ‘Hitler’ for initiating some health insurance legislation in Congress?
Part of the answer is right here in this poster by artist Shepard Fairey. This poster of the candidate Obama became a national icon and is one of the most recognizable political images in our history. It also has a problem. A big problem.
Obama is not fascist. His images are. Obama chose this image to represent him in his campaign for the presidency. Strange choice considering that we are a democracy and naturally recoil at images of giant heroic politicians gazing off into the sky.
The Fairey poster smacks of simplified, hard-edged, focused, efficient, mindless hero-worship. When images promote hero-worship of political leaders they immediately become oppressive and fascist. Look at the North Korean poster with its simple shapes and heroic figures lifting their gazes off and up over the observer’s level as if they are looking into some magnificent future of possibilities and… hope. The poster from North Korea is doing the same thing the Obama poster is doing. I’m not going to engage in an argument about the exact definition of fascism versus communism or totalitarianism. The fact is that all political imagery from repressive governments and totalitarian regimes concerns itself with presenting a leader as a wonderful hero who should be loved for his heroism and his magnificent personality. The imagery also simplifies itself so that it can be seen from a great distance and be easily understood by unintelligent people.
One may argue that the artist, Shepard Fairey, is infatuated with the techniques of fascist posters from around the world and adopts their forms for his own uses. Sure. Artists do that every day. But as soon as you place those techniques into a political image and promote a particular figure or personality, you are engaging in fascism whether you want to or not. Perhaps, Fairey never intended the image to become an actual campaign poster. But Obama easily turned it into one.
Ask yourself this question: what might George Orwell have thought of the Obama poster?
These angry health care reform protesters may not be aware of this direct link between Obama’s imagery and fascism, but they are definitely influenced by it. They are swimming in fascist Obama imagery everywhere they turn and so they are simply using it for their own purposes.
I’m not letting myself off the foolish hero-worship hook here either. I was somewhat taken with the Obama poster during the presidential campaign. I made the following video as my own little effort to help the campaign. The video focuses entirely on my discovery of one of the posters on the wall of an abandoned building in Baltimore.
My video is part of the problem. It revels in the fascist image of the candidate. I think my little film is actually pretty good, but I am not proud of being bamboozled by that suspect poster.
The Obama cult of personality imagery continues unabated.
He’s popular, certainly. He’s the nation’s first black president which is fantastic and overdue and accounts for a great deal of the hero-worship. He is a hero in many respects. But the images are focused on his face, figure, and personality. Not his politics. That puts the images directly into the camp of fascism or near-fascism. We in the United States typically maintain a somewhat suspicious attitude toward politicians. That’s a good thing because it keeps them nervous and, with the help of the free press, it keeps them somewhat in line.
But right now president Obama is dealing with people who are expressing enormous hatred which is partly class-based and partly racist. And, unfortunately, Obama’s own use of images containing fascist elements has unwittingly given these people a weapon with which to attack the foundations of his presidency. It has also given them the courage to use it.
If you put your face on a poster, someone’s going to throw an egg.